Lao Airlines is an airline I've been eyeing on trying, given the very positive reviews I have read online on its inflight services.
It was also the perfect excuse to visit the UNESCO World Heritage city Luang Prabang.
Lao Airlines restarted its Singapore route for the Winter season 2017/2018, offering the following schedule:
QV536 Singapore - Vientiane - Luang Prabang
Departs Singapore: 2.15pm / Arrives Vientiane: 4.10pm
Departs Vientiane: 5.00pm / Arrives Luang Prabang: 5.45pm
QV535 Luang Prabang - Vientiane - Singapore
Departs Luang Prabang: 7.40am / Arrives Vientiane: 8.25am
Departs Vientiane: 9.30am / Arrives Singapore 1.25pm
Focusing on my sector from Vientiane to Singapore on QV535, I had arrived at Vientiane Wattay International Airport and upon disembarkation, was handed a transit card by the groundstaff who noticed the "Transit" sticker on my shirt (given to me during check-in).
The airside of Wattay International Airport is, well, tiny! Offering just two gates, the whole airside is compressed into a room that is jam-packed with chairs and flanked by tacky duty-free shops on the edges. I swear some gate holding rooms in Changi Airport are much bigger than the entire airside of Wattay International Airport!
I spent my time during transit refreshing myself up and using the complimentary airport Wi-Fi (easily accessible through signing up and watching some advertisements).
It was confusing which of the two gates would be used for the flight, and anxious passengers moved from one end of the airside (room) to the other in anticipation of boarding. There was nothing shown on the display screens until boarding time - where the flight was displayed abruptly (at about 30 minutes before scheduled departure) and passengers were paged to board. From all four corners of the room, passengers converged to form a neat and orderly line for boarding.
I quickly boarded and found myself back on the same aircraft I had arrived in from Luang Prabang, but surprisingly, there was a change of crew - even though the first sector Luang Prabang to Vientiane had a flying time of just 25 minutes! I appreciate the change of crew as the new set of cabin crew were warm, fresh, and very welcoming.
Airline: Lao Airlines
Route: Vientiane (VTE) to Singapore (SIN)
Departure from Vientiane: 9.30am / 9.28am* (UTC +7)
Arrival in Singapore: 1.25pm / 1.08pm* (UTC +8)
Flight Time: 2 hours and 55 minutes / 2 hours and 40 minutes*
Operating Aircraft: Airbus 320-214
(* denotes actual timings)
Though passenger load was light on this flight, boarding took quite a while and passengers streamed slowly but steadily in - I was truly shocked as there were only that many places to go in that tiny cell that made up the entire airside of Wattay International Airport.
Scanning the room, (coughs) I mean, airside, earlier, I had predicted a light passenger load on my flight. As I was assigned a seat during check-in in Luang Prabang on a row with two fellow passengers in transit to Singapore (on the chock-full Luang Prabang to Vientiane flight), I wanted to find an empty row to enjoy on this longer international sector.
Passing by smiling cabin crew, I immediately proceeded towards the rear and randomly settled into an empty row. Confirming with the cabin crew that it would be a light load, ("Yeah," he replied), I was settling in snugly into the comfortable blue cushioned seat. However, the boarding process was long and passengers who boarded later were settling into rows all around me! I thought my game would be up sooner or later.
Surprisingly, my lucky stars were with me and once the Captain made his welcome speech, that nasty temporal guilt of sitting on someone's seat was gone (really hate that feeling) and I could finally relax and settle snugly into my seat.
Aside from the flight purser, there were three cabin crew, with the sole lady crew working in Business Class and two male crew in Economy Class. I wonder if it is standard for two cabin crew operating in the A320 Economy Class cabin because it would probably be taxing for the two cabin crew should the 150-seat Economy Class cabin be full. But for today, the two gentlemen could relax with the light passenger load - comprising a mix of business people and backpacking tourists. I have to be honest, both male cabin crew were very good-looking.
A welcome speech was given by the flight purser (in Lao and English, as with all another announcements during the flight), followed by a safety demonstration by the cabin crew. I thought it was wonderful that the safety demonstration highlighted the use of the attendant call button above the passenger seat. Not all passengers might be aware of its existence and it could be very handy to know in the event of an emergency.
We then took off into the blue sky on a very sunny day, with a good glimpse of the Mekong River as a parting scene of my short vacation to Laos.
A hot meal would be served on this flight, and service started with one of the gentlemen serving the meals and the other, serving drinks. The lady from Business Class would join the drinks cart later on. I really like the frangipani flower hair accessory that is pinned on the hair of Lao Airlines lady flight attendants.
Service from the cabin crew was warm and courteous. Though they seemed shy and quite reserved, they served with a smile, and provided a service that was sincere and hospitable.
A choice of fish or chicken is offered. I opted for the fish choice, and was served a blue tray (not surprising given its Lao Airlines corporate colours), with a big slice of Swiss Roll, and a cup of drinking water.
The main dish did not look most impressive but sampling one of the flaky fish pieces, I could immediately taste the subtle lemongrass flavor infused into the steamed fish. Further, the steamed rice had an aromatic taste to it. Relishing this Laotian cuisine, I dug in quite happily into my meal.
The drinks cart came along and I requested for a can of beer, knowing that Lao Airlines serves Laotian beer brand, BeerLao, onboard - continuing my beer binge that I took up during my stay in Luang Prabang!
The nice cabin crew asked if I would like ice with my beer. "Umm, sure!" I was hesitant but then again, I wasn't sure if the beer would be chilled - lukewarm beer and my throat don't get along well!
After the fantastic meal, I took time to slowly sip on my iced beer while enjoying the views outside. There were no entertainment onboard aside from the official Lao Airlines inflight magazine, Champa Meuanglao - which had some great articles on Luang Prabang. No duty-free sales were available as well.
Yet, perhaps the beer got me a little tipsy but without any distraction from the ubiquitous inflight entertainment of today, I rediscovered this simple satisfaction in enjoying the outside views of passing clouds, spotting cities and towns below, admiring islands and the blueness of the ocean, and so on. I was brought back to my aviation roots: a simple and pure love for flying in itself.
I visited the lavatory, which was bare except for an air freshener. It had been tided up by the cabin crew who restocked the paper napkins and toilet paper during the flight. Kudos on their pro-passenger service.
A view of the cabin
I requested for another can of BeerLao (Oh please, give me a break! I have been slogging way too hard this month!) to enjoy the rest of my flight with.
Time passed much more quicker than I expect - I probably was enjoying the views (and perhaps, the beer) more than I expected and the cabin was prepared for landing. We were treated to more interesting aerial views as the aircraft got into holding for its landing slot.
A bird's-eye view of the expansive Changi Airport from the air
We then landed quite smoothly in Changi Airport, ahead of schedule, and quickly taxied to our assigned gate at Terminal 2, where disembarkation was swift with the light passenger load.
Reflecting back, Lao Airlines service is pretty simple: with a hot meal served with drinks on a 2 hour and 40 minute flight, yet through boarding and throughout the flight, I felt the genuine and sincere service from the heart from the cabin crew - something you don't quite get on most airlines these days.
I also appreciate the meal which reflected the cuisine of Laos, and you guessed it right, the availability of Laotian beer onboard.
During the flight onboard Lao Airlines Airbus 320, somehow, I rediscovered this simple boyhood joy of flying in itself: just relaxing and enjoying a quiet moment on the plane - this feeling that was long buried through the years of fiddling with entertainment handsets, staring at flight maps, being awed by external camera views, indulging in inflight movie-binging, and endless poking at touchscreens. It certainly brought back a good feeling deep inside of me, which continued throughout the day after the flight. Even now, I am still more than thankful for this feeling lost and found.
You may ask, wouldn't flying on a low-cost airline give you that same nostalgic feeling of a joy in flying in itself? I've flown on plenty of low-cost airlines but my low-cost experiences have never triggered that emotion within me - perhaps, the knowing that low-cost airlines are but a product of today's race-to-the-bottom modern aviation industry, versus this timeless inflight product of Lao Airlines - a traditional full-service airline with good service and genuine hospitality, and providing a simple yet sincere offering - was certainly enough for making a memorable flight for me.
Thank you for reading this Lao Airlines review on FlightTravels.
For the full video experience of my QV535 flight, please see below: